Places to Donate Unwanted Items

Whether you’re Spring cleaning, preparing for an upcoming move, or just wanting to downsize or declutter, thereGiving hands are many charitable organizations that are willing to accept your unwanted stuff.

Consider keeping your unwanted items out of the landfill and donating them to others in need.

Operation Paperback is a national non-profit organization that sends gently used books to military service men and women overseas- as well as to their families at home.

Another place to donate books is to your local library.

One of the most widely known places to donate clothes is to Goodwill, which supports employment program opportunities in communities and keeps items out of landfills.

Another place to donate clothes is to the Salvation Army, who collects donated items to sell at its stores and uses the profits to help those in need.

The National Furniture Bank Association is a non-profit organization that collects furniture for families struggling with poverty.

Other places to donate furniture are local homeless or battered women’s shelters, or to a local thrift store.

CDs and Videos
CD’s, videos, and many other items can be donated to the American Red Cross via the GreenDrop Program, which converts donations to funds for American Red Cross’ programs and relief efforts. GreenDrop has pickup or dropoff options available.

Soles 4 Souls collects new and gently used shoes to provide relief to those in times of poverty or natural disaster and also to those in underdeveloped countries.

Goodwill Industries also accepts donated shoes and will even recycle those in poor condition.

Used cars
You can arrange a pickup or find a local chapter to donate your used vehicle to be repaired and sold with the proceeds benefitting the local Make a Wish Foundation chapter.

Ebay’s Giving Works program allows consumers to sell their used electronics and other items online and donate proceeds to a charity of their choice.

Best Buy also has a recycling program, allowing consumers to drop off their unwanted electronics items and appliances for a nominal fee.

Cell phones
New, used, or even damaged cell phones can be donated to Cell Phones for Soldiers that provides cost free communication services to active military members and veterans.

Lumber, building materials, home fixtures, bathtubs, sinks and more
If you’ve recently completed a renovation on your home, Habitat for Humanity will gladly accept a variety of household and building goods. It helps families to build an affordable place to live in the local community and around the world.

Children’s toys and games
The Ronald McDonald House offers support for families when a child is sick or needs medical care. Because it hosts thousands of children though, the Ronald McDonald House only accepts toys and games that are new.

Many local preschools and churches are willing to accept toys and games that are new or used.

Costume jewelry
I Have Wings Breast Cancer Foundation accepts donated jewelry and offers support to, not only breast cancer research, but to families during a breast cancer diagnosis.

What is Earnest Money and How Does it Work

What is earnest money? Earnest money is simply a sum of money made from Buyer to Seller to demonstrateHand with cash a Buyer’s seriousness about purchasing a property.

If an offer proceeds to a successful closing, a Buyer can consider his earnest money deposit a type of pre-payment which will be applied to his down payment or closing costs or put toward the purchase price.

Check out the following commonly asked questions to learn more about how earnest money works.

Do all Buyers need earnest money?
Earnest money is not required, however it is highly recommended to demonstrate to the Seller that you, the Buyer, are committed to seeing your offer through up until the time of closing.

Why is earnest money important?
A Buyer’s offer and his earnest money deposit will be taken into consideration by the Seller when the offer is presented so it is important and the amount is important too.

If, for example- a Seller received two offers from two different parties with a similar purchase price and terms, but one has an earnest money deposit and one doesn’t, it stands to reason that the Seller will give more consideration to the offer with the earnest money.

Likewise- if you were a Seller and were presented two similar offers from two different parties, yet one had $500 in earnest money and the other had $2000 in earnest money, which offer do you think you would you give more consideration to?

How much earnest money is enough?
There are different guidelines based on many different factors, but typically $500 is the minimum. Generally speaking- earnest money deposits range from 1%-5% of the purchase price.

How much to offer as earnest money depends on a great deal of variables. A $500 earnest money deposit may be adequate for a $150,000 property, yet insufficient for a $600,000 property.

When do I need earnest money?
As a Buyer, you should have the money to cover your earnest money deposit in your bank account at the time you write an offer. In Iowa, the earnest money is required to be deposited into the listing agent’s escrow account within 5 days of offer acceptance, where it will be held until closing. Held does not mean uncashed! The check will be cashed and must be made payable to the listing agent’s office, not to the Seller.

How might I lose my earnest money?
Earnest money offers assurance to Sellers that the Buyer won’t back out of the deal without valid cause so it’s important as a Buyer to fulfill all your obligations as they are stated in the purchase contract and do so within the specified time frames.

If a Buyer backs out of the deal without valid cause, it would result in forfeiture of the Buyer’s earnest money.

Can I get my earnest money returned to me?
A Buyer is only qualified to receive refunded earnest money if he had, according to the terms of the contract, valid cause to do so.

For example- The Buyer’s offer includes a financing contingency, allowing the Buyer 7 days to obtain financing. If the Buyer is unable to obtain his financing within the 7 days as stated in the contract and decides he wants to backs out of the deal, he would be allowed to do so and would also be entitled to have his earnest money deposit returned to him.

The Advantages and Definition of the “First-Time Home Buyer”

Just because you’ve owned a home before, that does not mean that you are automatically ineligible to be a first-time home buyer again.

Yes, it’s true! You are considered a first-time home buyer if:

  • You have never owned a home before OR
  • You have not owned a home within the past 3 years

Spouses are considered for eligibility individually so if your husband or wife has owned a home before- but you haven’t- or vice versa, you would also still qualify together as first-time home buyers.

Additionally- if you have owned a home without a permanent foundation such as a mobile home or RV in the past 3 years, you may still qualify and if you are a divorced parent who only owned a home with your divorced spouse, you may still qualify.

There are many advantages to first-time home buyers. Whereas conventional mortgage loans typically require aHome Buyers minimum down payment of 20%, consumers who qualify as first-time home buyers can take advantage of down payment assistance, an easier mortgage approval process, and tax advantages too!

One of the most popular loan products available for first-time home buyers is the FHA loan. An FHA loan is simply a mortgage that’s insured by the Federal Housing Administration or FHA.

FHA loans might be desirable to borrows who:

  • Have little or no down payment saved
  • Have a less than perfect credit score
  • Have a modest income
  • Have filed for bankruptcy within the past 4 years

Borrowers with a credit score of 580 or above can take advantage of a minimum down payment requirement of just 3.5%- which can even be gifted by a family member.

Borrowers with a credit score between 500-579 are not ineligible for an FHA loan, however they must pay 10% down.

FHA loans additionally require:

  • United States citizenship
  • Steady employment/reliable source of income
  • A borrower’s satisfactory debt to income ratio
  • A home’s condition meet certain livability standards

Another advantage available to first-time home buyers is the “First-Time Home Buyer Savings Account Program”, which offers tax advantages to those wishing to save money for the down payment and closing costs on a future home purchase in Iowa.

Read more here about Iowa’s First-Time Home Buyer Savings Program.

How to Prepare for a Power Outage

We take for granted the conveniences in our every-day lives.No power supply clip art

In the event of a power outage, conventional methods fail leaving us with only limited resources and means to provide for our most basic needs.

Prepare your home and protect your family from the threat of power outages with the following tips:

Before an outage:
Purchase supplies and know where they’re located in your home:
     -Batteries for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
     -Flashlights and radio with batteries
     -Medication and battery backup for necessary medical devices
     -Non-perishable food items and water
     -Manual can opener
     -Blankets and sleeping bags
     -Entertainment for you and kids such as puzzles, books, magazines, or playing cards
Charge your cell phone and computer
Fill your car up with gas
Withdraw cash from the bank
Fill freezer bags with ice to keep food cold in both refrigerator and freezer
Apply duct tape to bathtub drain and fill bathtub with water for later use
Fill buckets and jugs with water
Identify alternative shelter (if necessary)

During an outage-
Call utility provider to report outage
Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed
Use a bucket of water to flush the toilet if necessary
Unplug electronic devices before the power comes back on to prevent damage from power surges
Use car charger to charge your phone in your car

How is Your Curb Appeal

The term ‘curb appeal’ is used a lot in real estate as a general term to describe the overall attractiveness of a property. Curb appeal includes the property’s exterior, the entry, the lawn, and more.

Why is curb appeal so important? First impressions matter- a lot! A typical home buyer, for example, will develop an impression of your home within just seconds of seeing it. If a first impression is positive, Buyers will feel welcome and curious to explore all of the possibilities inside your home. If the first impression is negative, a Seller may risk losing the Buyer completely- as well as a potential sale before the Buyer even sets foot in the home.

Good curb appeal doesn’t have to cost you a fortune though. You can create an inviting exterior setting; get Buyers in your front door; and improve the value of your home with the following no to low-cost tips:Brick house

1. Your lawn and landscaping- Mow your lawn correctly using the proper blade height so the grass isn’t cut too short or too long. Aerate if necessary and repair any bare spots with fresh grass seed. A proper maintenance routine should include applying fertilizer, removing weeds, and clearing the lawn of any debris or animal waste.

2. Your house- Power wash your house and garage so buildings are free of dirt, cobwebs, or even bird droppings. Remove any branches from rooftops and gutters. Sweep off your patio or deck and apply a fresh coat of stain if necessary.
If your wood siding or trim is chipped, apply a fresh coat of paint.

3. Your entry- Dress up the entry to your home by using a welcome mat or rug near the front door. Make sure it aligns symmetrically with the door and entire entry. Add a splash of life and brighten up your front steps with a potted plant or two.

4. Your lighting- Many Buyers will visit your home, not just in the day, but night too. Make sure the entry and exterior are well-lit and your home looks as attractive at night as it does during the day.

5. Your personal touches- Add your own personal touches with other items or do it yourself projects such as: a bird house, a garden box, a fountain, a bench or sitting area, a firepit, or a new patio or trestle. These items will make a positive impression on your prospective Buyers as well as any of your future guests!

Mortgage Interest Rates are Going Down

If you’ve been watching or reading the national news lately, you may have gotten wind that mortgage interest ratesArrow down have been going down and going down rapidly.

Mortgage rates had been slowly declining since early 2019, when they just recently dropped quickly and rather significantly. According to market data from Freddie Mac, the rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage dropped from 4.28% on March 21, 2019 to 4.06% on March 28, 2019. The decline is fantastic news for prospective purchasers and great news for many existing homeowners too.

Mortgage interest rates saw a significant increase in 2018 which, combined with a low inventory of homes, resulted in slightly slower home sales for the year. But there are, again, a lot of mortgage products available with rates under 4% which could mean potential savings for you.

If you’re a prospective home buyer, it’s a great time to consider pulling the trigger on that new home purchase. With the upcoming Spring Market season, you may be able to take advantage of higher Spring Market inventory and a mortgage interest rate lower than has been available in the past year!

If you’re a homeowner, it’s a great time to consider if refinancing might be right for you. It’s possible that you could refinance now at the lower interest rate, pay all the refinancing fees, and still save money on your future mortgage payments. Sometimes- hundreds of dollars each month!

If you’re wondering if you can benefit from low interest rates, contact a local mortgage lender today.

The Dangers of Flooding

Rainfall and snow melt have caused widespread flooding throughout the Midwest recently, causing areas that areFlooding clip art normally dry to be submerged in water.

While flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States, it can have incredibly devastating consequences on a community.

The National Weather Service provides alerts to the public when flooding is occurring or about to occur. A Flood Advisory notifies the public to be alert and use caution as a flood watch may be forthcoming. A Flood Watch notifies the public to be prepared as flooding conditions are possible. A Flood Warning notifies the public to take action immediately as flooding is imminent or already occurring.


Flooding causes a great deal of risks to health and life for persons, pets, and livestock including:
Transmission of communicable diseases
Transmission of bacterial infections
Transmission of fungal infections

The erosion of water can also have devastating effects to property including:
Home damage
Personal property damage
Road damage and sinkholes
Bridge damage
Agricultural land damage


It’s important to know your risk and prepare accordingly so you can mitigate flood damage and loss.

• Prepare an evacuation plan for your home that includes your pets
• Assemble a ‘grab and go’ disaster preparedness kit for your home or vehicle that contains items that will allow you and your family to survive on your own. An example can be found here.
• If you must travel, do not drive into areas with standing water as only 6 inches of water can cause your vehicle to be swept away. Current road closures in Iowa can be accessed here.
• If you get caught in a vehicle swept away by flood water, the doors of your car can open when the vehicle is submerged. Once the door is open, enter into the flowing water with your toes facing downstream.
• Move valuables within your home or business to a higher location
• If high water is approaching, turn off the gas and power source for all major appliances
• Whenever possible, do not attempt to walk or swim through contaminated water
• Evacuate when necessary

6 House Hunting Tips for Home Buyers

house and magnifying glassSigns of Spring are in the air and soon real estate agents all over the area will be escorting clients through private viewings of homes for sale.

If you’re in the market to buy, then you are probably enthused by the idea of viewing your next dream home.

But before you get ahead of yourself and unknowingly do something to offend the Seller and/or your real estate agent, read the following tips for Home Buyers.

1. Choose a real estate agent
If you’re in the market to buy your next home, it’s important to choose an agent you can trust. Throughout the home buying process, you will share a lot of personal information with that person including your financial status, your credit history, and other personal and lifestyle information.

Once you identify an agent you can trust, stick with that person. If you see a home you like online, don’t call the listing agent. Call your agent and tell them about what you just saw.

Real estate agents rely on client loyalty, and unless she has done something to offend you, you should continue with that person throughout the search up until the day of closing on your new home.

2. Get pre-approved
Guessing how much home you can afford is a very bad idea- so bad, in fact- that many real estate agents will not show homes to a Buyer without a pre-approval letter.

It’s important to obtain a pre-approval from your bank before you begin your home search. Doing so will guide you toward homes you can afford and away from homes you can’t.

3. Be prepared
Whether you’re off to view only one home or multiple homes, it’s important to anticipate the time you’ll be spending by being prepared.

Properties may or may not have their water turned on so be sure to use the restroom before heading out to look at properties. Avoid hunger/thirst by having a meal or light snack before viewing homes. Never bring outside food/drink to other people’s homes.

4. Keep your appointments
Your agent and the Seller are both preparing for your arrival so respect their time by keeping your appointment. Be punctual. If your agent scheduled your showing at 1:30- don’t arrive at 1:40.

If something unexpected comes up which requires you to cancel, always try to do so with as much notice as possible. Never ever No-Show for a listing appointment.

5. Remove your shoes
Don’t be the guy who stains the Seller’s carpet with their dirty shoes! Although it may not be a rule in your own home, it is always the rule in someone else’s home!

If you’re self-conscious about your feet, just pack some clean socks in your car for the upcoming house hunting days.

6. Don’t snoop
The Golden Rule applies to house hunting. Treat a home and its owner with the same courtesy you would expect of others.

When viewing homes, don’t wander off from your real estate agent to go exploring- and never, ever snoop! Respect the Seller’s sacred space and his or her privacy.

Do’s and Don’t for First-Time Home Sellers

Selling your home can be challenging. There’s a great deal of emotion involved and doing it for the first time makes itThumbs up down even more difficult.

It’s easy for sellers to get caught up in the emotion of the process and succumb to any number of mistakes so I’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind if you’re a first-time home seller.


DON’T overprice

Selling your home is likely one of the largest financial transactions you’ll ever make. While it may be tempting to ‘test the market’ with a slightly inflated list price, doing so can have negative unintended consequences for Sellers.

For example- if a Seller chooses a list price for their home which is 25% higher than the actual market value, many Buyers who are qualified for the true market value may overlook the home as one he cannot afford.

Sellers who attempt to overpricing their listing are often forced to reduce the list price later to the home’s actual market value, which can result in time wasted and an even lower final sale price.

Greediness leads to failure. It’s important to choose a realistic asking price based on the property’s actual market value at the time of the listing. Doing so will generate more immediate interest and increase the odds of a higher price offer.


DON’T get emotional

Selling a home is an incredibly emotional experience. When you’re selling for the very first time, it’s helpful to remain unemotional and try not to take things personally

Let’s say a Buyer asks you to include your patio furniture with the sale. Maybe they just think you have great taste! Take a deep breath and consider- unemotionally- “am I willing to do that, or not”?

Let’s say a 2:00 pm showing appointment cancels at 1:45. Maybe they had a family emergency! Take a deep breath and focus on one showing at a time- one day at a time. Getting caught up in emotion can only make the entire process more stressful than it needs to be.


DON’T be unprepared

Have you calculated your expected Selling costs? Are you planning to buy or rent your next home? Will you be needing to rent a storage unit or hire a moving company?

Being unprepared can be a time-consuming and costly mistake so all these things should be taken into consideration now.


DON’T ignore feedback

Through the process of listing and selling your house, you will encounter a great deal of feedback- both positive and negative.

If your real estate agent cautions you against investing any more money into your home, you may want to consider that feedback. If two of the three prospects at your open house said the living room carpet should be cleaned, consider cleaning the living room carpet.

If a prospective Buyer, however, wants you to move the front of your house to the back and the upstairs to down, you may want to disregard that feedback. That Buyer is probably not “the One”.

Not everyone likes the same things, but it only takes one Buyer- “the One”. Being open to feedback can help you as the Seller to determine if “the One” is nearby OR if an adjustment should be made before “the One” arrives.


DO hire a listing agent you trust

Real estate agents are not all created equal. A good real estate agent will have a marketing plan which includes putting your home on display for a large audience of prospects. A good agent will take professional looking photos to enhance the appearance of your home. A good agent will offer tips, advice, and strategies to maximize your efforts and your results.

A Seller can choose from a large selection of real estate agents, but it’s imperative he choose someone he can trust.


DO accommodate buyers

If a qualified prospect wants to view your home, make every effort to accommodate their request. Buyers often make inconvenient showing requests or ones with little to no notice. Although it can be incredibly frustrating, it’s important to have your home as accessible to real estate agents and prospective buyers alike.

If a home is too difficult to access, Buyers and/or their agents may choose to move on to another home with a more motivated and accommodating Seller. Remember- convenience helps!


DO keep an open mind

When you embark on your first journey as a home Seller, you may say to yourself “I will never do X” or “if a Buyer thinks XX, they can just forget about it”. If a Seller with this kind of attitude encounters a Buyer with a similar mentality, it can make for a very painful process.

It’s important for home Sellers to have an open mind, which includes a willingness to be flexible and open to new ideas. Do you really need to close by May 27 or can it be June 6? 0% of the time does one party to a transaction get 100% of what they want. A successful transaction takes compromise by both sides.


DO fulfill your obligations

If you promise your real estate agent you will have the house clean and ready to show by April 1, have the house clean and ready to show by April 1. If you agree to have the dead tree in the backyard removed for the Buyer before closing day, have the dead tree in the back yard removed before closing.

Your real estate contract will likely require you to remove all personal items and debris prior to closing so make sure you do it. Going back on your obligations as a Seller can result in hard feelings, unnecessary stress, and even potential liability.

Before You Go FSBO

Selling your house on your own can be an appealing concept. I mean- who wouldn’t want to save money on paying aFSBO commission to a real estate agent? There are a variety of reasons why FSBO’s (pronounced fizz-bos) attempt this route, and there are a variety of reasons why those attempts fail.

Selling a house can be difficult, time consuming, and expensive so before you go FSBO, ask yourself the following questions and make sure you’re prepared for the commitment necessary to successfully sell your house on your own.

Can I be objective? Homeowners have very personal and subjective perspectives of their homes because they have more invested than just money. Sellers have blood, sweat, and tears and they have memories. Did you lay the landscaping pavers at your house one by one? Do you get sentimental when you look at the room where your daughter walked her first steps? These are just a couple of examples how a homeowner’s judgement can get clouded and they can lose objectivity. Nobody enjoys rejection and navigating through certain issues about your own home with a potential Buyer can be extremely challenging.
Do I understand perceived value? There is a very big difference between components of a home that make it more valuable and ones that make it more sellable. What you perceive as valuable may or may not match your Buyer’s perception. Because of the Internet, consumers have the capacity to be savvy when it comes to market statistics and home values. Have you done your research and are you prepared? When Buyers see a FSBO, they often envision “savings” and develop an expectation that the Sellers will extend the savings onto them. Once an offer is prepared and the negotiating process begins, both market knowledge and perceived value will be revealed. Dealing with a savvy Buyer or a real estate agent representing a Buyer, a Seller can be at a significant disadvantage if they don’t understand value.
Can I qualify prospects? When a property comes on the market, people are going to want to see it- period. That includes both qualified and unqualified people. How will you identify which is which? Showing homes to unqualified people can occasionally be beneficial, but it can also be incredibly dangerous and/or a total waste of your time.
Will I be accessible for showings and communication? When a hot Buyer enters the picture, it’s important for a Seller to be accessible. Will your Buyer prospects be corresponding with you via email, phone, or both? Can you accommodate a Buyer’s schedule with your own work schedule or personal lifestyle? Do you have time dedicated to tidying up the house AND conducting the showing itself? Having a plan in place for managing showings and communication is necessary if you plan to sell your house yourself.
What costs will I incur? Whether you’re selling your house on your own or with a real estate agent, you will incur costs. A Seller can ask an agent the cost of fees related to their services, however a Seller will need to do a bit more research to determine the costs of selling their own house. A FSBO may need to obtain the services of other professionals such as: a photographer to take and/or edit listing photos; a professional printer to prepare flyers; an attorney to prepare legal documents and/or offer legal advice; an escrow or settlement agent; a professional home stager; and an online marketing platform and/or newspaper publication.
Can I really do this on my own? Do you know what information you will need to disclose about your house at what point, by what method, and to whom? There are disclosure laws and other opportunities for liability for Sellers selling their house on their own. If you read through this blog post today and feel overwhelmed or unsure, I encourage you to get in touch with a real estate agent today.